Pan Am Games and memories

You probably don’t know it, but this summer in Toronto, Canada they are hosting the Pan American Games. This event doesn’t get much play in the US media, but it is important for many of the summer sports, as it serves as an Olympic qualifier for many of the teams and athletes. It reminded me of a summer not so long ago (2003) just before I started teaching and a whole series of events that took place that year in the small world of USA Team Handball.  Let’s hop in the wayback machine and have a look.

ATH won 2003 US Nationals Gold

ATH won 2003 US Nationals Gold

Building on the success of the local club that Coach Cap, Cathy H. and I started called Atlanta Team Handball, I was named as the Vice President, Men’s Program for the sport’s federation (USATH). That meant it was my responsibility to field junior and senior men’s teams for regional and international competitions. Since the Pan Am Games were to be played later that summer of 2003 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Head Coach Cristian Zaharia and I had to hustle to get the best team possible in the best shape possible with almost no money. I was named Chef de Mission (head of delegation) for the men’s and women’s teams and Cristian and I got an early look at the venues early that spring with the rest of the USOC delegation.

Back in the states we held tryouts and made our team selection. Most of the team stayed and trained at a seminary on Long Island (great hosts) early summer. Knowing that the only way to get strong competition for our players was to compete internationally, we then took the team to Assen, Netherlands to train and stay at a military base and compete against their national team. Awesome experience and wonderful hosts.

Getting ready for the games, all teams were processed in Tampa with credentials and gear, then flew into Santo Domingo. We stayed in their Olympic Village (awesome food, by the way) and trained at the venue until the competition began. We battled in pool play against powerhouse teams from Argentina and Brazil (the favorites) and teams from Canada, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Mexico and Peru … at least I think that was the roster. We found ourselves in a game against Brazil that was actually starting to turn in our favor and we almost won. Once it was all over, we came in third, earning the first Bronze medal for the men’s program since 1991. It was all pretty heady at the time.

2003 Pan Am Games Bronze Medal winners USA!

2003 Pan Am Games Bronze Medal winners USA!

As I look at the competition for this year’s Pan Am Games, there is no team from USA, which is so unfortunate. The momentum that had built up from Atlanta Team Handball through the Bronze medal finish dissolved with infighting among board members and a lack of funding outside the USOC. A few governing boards later and it looks like some veterans are back in play with the board, but so much time and talent has been lost to a sport that athletes love to play and crowds love to watch.

I should point out that Atlanta Team Handball ran a recreation league using the gym at my middle school (before I was teaching there) and several of the students from the school were part of Junior and Senior men’s teams that traveled and competed internationally. Team handball is still played there during PE and the court has permanent team handball lines on it (which is pretty rare).

Ok, well that ends the trip down Doug’s memory lane. Next adventure should be a trip with the granddaughters to High Falls State Park near Macon, just as soon as the van has the wheel bearing fixed (scheduled for this week).

7/27 UPDATE: The games are now over, you can check the final results at the link (1:Brazil, 2:Argentina, 3:Chile).

Link to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games schedule: http://results.toronto2015.org/IRS/en/handball/schedule-and-results.htm

Link to USA Team Handball: http://www.teamusa.org/usa-team-handball/news

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